Private inspections of food companies seen as weak
3:53 a.m. ET March 20, 2009
|WASHINGTON – The mortgage meltdown exposed the weakness of self-regulation in financial markets. Now the salmonella outbreak is doing the same for the food industry.
A House subcommittee Thursday released new documents that showed how private inspectors contracted by Peanut Corp. of America failed to find long-standing sanitary problems at company facilities. Peanut Corp. is at the center of a nationwide outbreak that has sickened nearly 700 people and is blamed for at least nine deaths.
US soldier dies from non-combat causes in Iraq
AP 3:59 a.m. ET
|BAGHDAD – The U.S. military says an American soldier has died from non-combat causes in Iraq.
A statement issued Friday says the Multi-National Division — Center soldier died the previous day. It doesn't give a location or more details but the soldier's division operates in an area south of Baghdad.
The death occurred on the day that marks the sixth anniversary of the 2003 U.S. invasion that led to the ouster of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
Small plane crashes into Ecuador building; 7 dead
By GONZALO SOLANO, Associated Press Writer Friday March 20, 2009
|QUITO, Ecuador – A small army plane slammed into an apartment building in an upscale neighborhood of Ecuador's mountainous capital on Thursday, killing five people aboard the aircraft and two more on the ground.
The plane grazed a house before plowing into the four-story building, sending a fireball and black smoke into the evening sky and filling a residential yard with the aircraft's wreckage. A thick mist shrouded the neighborhood at the time, though the cause of the crash was unknown
EU eyes gendarme force for Afghan police training
|BRUSSELS (AFP) – Six European Union nations agreed Thursday to allow their joint paramilitary police team to be used to help bolster Afghanistan's police force, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said.
He said that nations in the European Gendarmerie Force -- France, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Romania and Spain -- had accepted a proposal by Paris for the police to conduct training, and that Turkey could also take part.
S Korea: North to restore military hot line
SEOUL, South Korea — South Korean officials say North Korea has informed them it will restore a military communications hot line severed 12 days ago.
The Defense Ministry said Friday that the North reported the hot line will be operational again starting Saturday.
The North Korean military cut the last remaining hot line to protest joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises taking place across South Korea. That left the two Koreas without any quick means of direct communication.
Washington and Seoul call the exercises routine defense drills, but Pyongyang has branded them as preparations for an attack on the North.
Report: Energy contributing to birds' decline
By DINA CAPPIELLO, Associated Press Writer March 20, 2009 4:32a.m. ET
|WASHINGTON – Energy production of all types — wind, ethanol and mountaintop coal mining — is contributing to steep drops in bird populations, a new government report says.
The first-of-its-kind report chronicles a four-decade decline in many of the country's bird populations and provides many reasons for it, from suburban sprawl to the spread of exotic species to global warming.
It shows that birds in Hawaii are more in danger of becoming extinct than anywhere else in the United States. In the last 40 years, populations of birds living on prairies, deserts and at sea have declined between 30 percent and 40 percent.
House votes to recoup bonuses from bailed-out firms
By Jeremy Pelofsky and Susan Cornwell
|WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives swiftly passed a bill on Thursday to recoup controversial bonuses paid to American International Group Inc as Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner tried to calm the furor by taking responsibility.
In the face of public outrage at the fact that AIG paid $165 million in bonuses after receiving $180 billion in government aid, the House voted 328-93 to approve a 90 percent tax on bonuses for certain executives at companies that are getting taxpayer-financed help.
Democrats blame each other on AIG bonuses
By Julie Hirschfeld Davis, Associated Press Writer
|WASHINGTON – The case of the missing AIG bonus limits has become a tale of political intrigue and Democratic infighting that could threaten the re-election chances of a top senator and the credibility — if not the career — of one of President Obama's top advisers.
As the House passed new legislation Thursday to crack down on the outrage-inspiring bonuses, Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut, the Banking Committee chairman, and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner engaged in finger-pointing about who was responsible for Congress' failure to prevent them in the first place.
Dodd, a five-term senator, was already facing a tough re-election contest in 2010. He says the Obama administration insisted he modify his proposal to rein in bonuses at companies getting billions of dollars in financial bailouts so that it would only apply to payments agreed to in the future — thus clearing the way for the AIG payouts.
SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY NEWS COMING UP IN THE COMMENTS THREAD.
Major Pacific earthquake prompts tsunami warning
|NUKU'ALOFA, Tonga (AFP) – A major 7.9-magnitude earthquake shook the South Pacific nation of Tonga Friday, prompting a tsunami warning but causing no major damage, officials said.
The quake, which hit at 7.17 am (1817 GMT), was centred 210 kilometres (130 miles) south-southeast of the Tongan capital Nuku'alofa, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) said.
A 5.2-magnitude aftershock was also recorded in the same region just over two hours after the initial quake.
U.S. throws lifeline to distressed auto suppliers
By David Lawder and Soyoung Kim
|WASHINGTON/DETROIT (Reuters) – The Obama administration pledged up to $5 billion on Thursday to immediately assist auto suppliers whose health is crucial to the survival of stricken U.S. car manufacturers.
The emergency aid is the first act of the government's autos task force, which is overseeing the restructuring of General Motors Corp and Chrysler LLC that includes a new bailout request from the two of nearly $22 billion.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said the short-term supplier initiative "will stabilize a critical component" of the industry owed billions by carmakers.
Obama envoy Holbrooke served on AIG's board
By RICHARD LARDNER, Associated Press Write
|WASHINGTON – Obama administration special envoy Richard Holbooke was on the American International Group Inc. board of directors in early 2008 when the insurance company locked in the bonuses now stoking national outrage. Holbrooke, a veteran diplomat who is now the administration's point man on Pakistan and Afghanistan, served on the board between 2001 and mid-2008.|
During that period, AIG undertook the aggressive investment strategies that led to a near-collapse and forced a multibillion-dollar federal bailout.
13 firms receiving federal bailout owe back taxes
By STEPHEN OHLEMACHER, Associated Press Writer
|WASHINGTON – At least 13 firms receiving billions of dollars in bailout money owe a total of more than $220 million in unpaid federal taxes, a key lawmaker said Thursday. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., chairman of a House subcommittee overseeing the federal bailout, said two firms owe more than $100 million apiece. "This is shameful. It is a disgrace," said Lewis. "We are going to get to the bottom of what is going on here."
The House Ways and Means subcommittee on oversight discovered the unpaid taxes in a review of tax records from 23 of the firms receiving the most money, Lewis said as he opened a hearing on the issue.
Dallas school accused of staging fights
By DANNY ROBBINS, Associated Press Writer
DALLAS – The Dallas school system was rocked by allegations Thursday that staff members at an inner-city high school made students settle their differences by fighting bare-knuckle brawls inside a steel cage. The principal and other employees at South Oak Cliff High knew about the cage fights and allowed the practice to continue, according to a 2008 report by school system investigators.
"More than anything, I'm in shock and disbelief — shocked that this could ever occur and shocked that it would be condoned by a professional administrator," said Jerome Garza, a member of the Dallas school board.
The report, first obtained by The Dallas Morning News, describes two instances of fighting in an equipment cage in a boys' locker room between 2003 and 2005. It was not clear from the report whether there were other fights
Sen. Dodd favors split in financial regulation overhaul
By Kevin Drawbaugh and John Poirier-Reuters
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Two key U.S. financial regulation reforms -- bringing systemic risk into focus and coping with failing firms -- should be handled separately, not by one agency, a key U.S. lawmaker said on Thursday.
Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd also said at a committee hearing that it was an "open question" whether the U.S. Federal Reserve should become a "systemic risk regulator," a potential reform that some lawmakers favor.
Senate approves Kagan as top U.S. courtroom lawyer
|WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate on Thursday confirmed Elena Kagan, a former law school colleague of President Barack Obama, as U.S. solicitor general -- a post that will have her argue the government's position in cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.
The largely party-line vote was 61-31.
A former Clinton administration lawyer who's been the dean of Harvard Law School since 2003, Kagan is seen as a possible Obama nominee for any future opening on the high court.
Ky. officials accused of election-rigging scheme
By JOE BIESK, Associated Press Writer
FRANKFORT, Ky. – A judge, school superintendent and county clerk in southeastern Kentucky have been indicted on charges they extorted money from political candidates so they could bribe voters in a scheme to rig several elections, authorities said Thursday.
The U.S. Attorney's office said charges include racketeering, bribery, extortion and voter fraud against Clay County Circuit Court Judge Russell Cletus Maricle, school superintendent Douglas C. Adams, Clay County Clerk Freddy Thompson and others.
The investigation began after voting irregularities were reported during the 2006 elections. A statement from the federal prosecutor's office claims the officials tried to rig federal, state and local elections in 2002, 2004 and 2006 in Clay County, about 170 miles southeast of Louisville.
Palin rejects nearly 30 percent of stimulus funds
By ANNE SUTTON, Associated Press Writer Anne Sutton
|JUNEAU, Alaska – Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin says she will accept just 69 percent of the estimated $930 million in federal stimulus funds that could flow to the state.
Palin's original announcement Thursday that she was accepting just over half the stimulus package funds did not include $128 million in Medicaid stimulus money she is accepting.
The former vice presidential candidate says she will accept only money without strings that will bind the state later. It's up to the Legislature to weigh in on the rest of the package
US Judges revise policy to avoid ethical conflicts
By MARK SHERMAN, Associated Press Writer
|WASHINGTON – The nation's federal judges adopted revised ethics rules Tuesday that for the first time define the "appearance of impropriety" that must be avoided. But those revised rules still allow individual judges to decide what is acceptable.
In the first major changes to the ethics rules in 17 years, the judges said an appearance of impropriety occurs when reasonable minds agree that "the judge's honesty, integrity, impartiality, temperament, or fitness to serve as a judge is impaired." The new rules take effect July 1.
Pope seeks to defuse backlash on condom comments
By Martine Nouaille Reuters
YAOUNDE, Cameroon (AFP) – Pope Benedict XVI's entourage sought to defuse an international outcry over his denunciation of the use of condoms against AIDS as his remarks overshadowed his first trip to Africa.
Benedict focused on the need to defend the poor on the second day of his visit to Cameroon, but controversy raged over his comments the previous day that condoms were aggravating the AIDS epidemic.
Activists and some governments condemned the pope's statement, which was denounced as counter-productive and even irresponsible while he visits the continent that contains two-thirds of the world's AIDS cases.
Commission: Ohio's former AG violated election law
By JULIE CARR SMYTH, AP Statehouse Correspondent
|COLUMBUS, Ohio – A divided Ohio Elections Commission found Thursday that former Attorney General Marc Dann twice violated state elections law by using campaign funds to pay for an expensive in-home security system and a cell phone often used for personal calls.
The panel fined both Dann and his campaign committee $1,000 each in the security system matter, and issued him a public reprimand over the handling of his cell phone expenses. The campaign's then-deputy treasurer, Mary Beth Snyder, received a $250 fine for signing off on the security system expenses.
9 Philly firefighters hurt when 2 trucks collide
|PHILADELPHIA – Two fire trucks responding to a call collided at a downtown intersection Thursday, injuring nine firefighters, one seriously.
Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers said none of the injuries appeared life-threatening after the crash, which involved a ladder truck and a fire engine in a residential neighborhood.
California "tent city" for homeless to be closed
|SACRAMENTO, California (Reuters) – The mayor of California's state capital unveiled plans on Thursday to shut down a sprawling "tent city" of the homeless that has drawn worldwide media attention as a symbol of U.S. economic decline.
Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson promised to first make alternative shelter space available for the estimated 150 men and women who inhabit the squalid encampment near the American River, at the edge of the city's downtown.
Md. mulls denying licenses to illegal immigrants
By KATHLEEN MILLER, Associated Press Writer
|ANNAPOLIS, Md. – In an online Spanish language chat room, people from all over the East Coast seek tips on how to get driver's licenses in Maryland even though they don't live there.
Businesses run classified ads in Spanish-language publications in Washington, D.C., Virginia and Maryland urging "undocumented Hispanic friends" to take advantage of the opportunity to get Maryland ID without having to prove they're in the country legally.
Fritzl gets life in prison for incest-rape, murder
By Sylvia Westall Sylvia Westall
|ST POELTEN, Austria (Reuters) – Josef Fritzl was sentenced to life in a secure mental unit for locking up and raping his daughter in a cellar over 24 years, fathering seven children with her and causing the death of his own infant son.
"I accept the verdict," the 73-year-old Austrian told the court after Thursday's unanimous decision by the three-man, five-woman jury in a court west of Vienna. The prosecution also approved it, meaning the trial outcome cannot be appealed.
Obama tells Leno he was stunned by AIG bonuses
By MARK S. SMITH, Associated Press Writer
|BURBANK, Calif. – President Barack Obama told Jay Leno on Thurday that he was stunned when he learned of the bonuses that bailed-out insurance giant AIG was paying its employees.
Obama told "The Tonight Show" host the payments raise moral and ethical problems — and vowed again to try to recoup the cash for taxpayers.
"We're going to do everything we can to get these bonuses back", he declared.
Court blocks rule allowing guns in national parks
By MATTHEW DALY, Associated Press Writer
|WASHINGTON – A federal judge on Thursday blocked a federal rule allowing people to carry concealed, loaded guns in national parks and wildlife refuges.
The decision by U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly halts a change in regulations issued in the waning days of the Bush administration and orders further review. She set an April 20 deadline for the Interior Department to review the rule and indicate its course of action in response to the injunction.
Autopsy: Richardson died from bleeding in brain
By HILLEL ITALIE, Associated Press Writer
|NEW YORK – Natasha Richardson died from bleeding in her skull caused by the fall she took on a ski slope, an autopsy found Thursday.
The medical examiner ruled her death an accident, and doctors said she might have survived had she received immediate treatment. However, nearly four hours elapsed between her lethal fall at her admission to a hospital
World economy to shrink 'for first time in 60 yrs'
|WASHINGTON (AFP) – The International Monetary Fund said on Thursday that the world economy, reeling from financial crisis, was on track to shrink for the first time in 60 years in 2009, by as much as 1.0 percent.
In a report prepared for the Group of 20 meeting of finance chiefs last week in Britain and published Thursday, the IMF slashed forecasts from two months ago to a global contraction of between 0.5 percent and 1.0 percent.
The latest IMF projections were sharply lower than those in the World Economic Outlook update published on January 28 that had put global growth at an annual rate of 0.5 percent.
Chinese 'spy' urges US to press on rights
By Shaun Tandon
|WASHINGTON (AFP) – A man who said he was a Chinese spy has appealed to the United States to stand up to Beijing, charging it was running a vast intelligence operation at home and abroad to suppress dissent.
Li Fengzhi visited the US Congress on Thursday to talk to lawmakers and appeal for asylum. His supporters said it was the first time a Chinese intelligence officer had defected.
Many Iraqis held by US to go free
By LARA JAKES, Associated Press Writer
|CAMP BUCCA, Iraq – Thousands of Iraqis held without charge by the United States on suspicion of links to insurgents or militants are being freed by this summer because there is little or no evidence against them.
Their release comes as the U.S. prepares to turn over its detention system to the fledgling Iraqi government by early 2010. In the six years since the war began, the military ultimately detained some 100,000 suspects, many of whom were picked up in U.S.-led raids during a raging, bloody insurgency that has since died down.
Church faces challenges in Africa amid pope visit
By MICHELLE FAUL, Associated Press Writer
|LUANDA, Angola – In Africa, some Roman Catholic priests have children and nuns counsel patients to use condoms against the scourge of AIDS. Faithful consult medicine men even though the church condemns that as witchcraft.
As Pope Benedict XVI makes his first pilgrimage this week to the continent that has the world's fastest-growing congregation of Catholics, the church faces enormous challenges despite its growing presence here.
Sarkozy under pressure as French protests hit streets
By James Mackenzie
|PARIS (Reuters) – Up to three million people took to the streets of France on Thursday for a second round of protests against President Nicolas Sarkozy's handling of the economic crisis and to demand more help for struggling workers.
The rallies, which polls say are backed by three-quarters of the French public, reflect growing disillusion with Sarkozy's reforms as tens of thousands jobs are lost to the downturn.
Several hundred youths clashed briefly with police at the end of the main union rally in Paris, highlighting the tensions in France, which has a long tradition of public demonstrations.
U.N. rights envoy sees Israeli war crimes in Gaza
By Stephanie Nebehay
|GENEVA (Reuters) – A United Nations human rights investigator said on Thursday that Israel's military assault on densely populated Gaza appeared to constitute a grave war crime.
Richard Falk, U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories, said the Geneva Conventions required warring forces to distinguish between military targets and surrounding civilians.
Ecuador army plane hits buildings, six dead
By Alexandra Valencia
|QUITO (Reuters) – A small military plane crashed into two buildings in the fog-bound capital of Ecuador on Thursday, killing at least six people, authorities said.
Defense Minister Javier Ponce said the three army personnel and two civilians aboard the twin-engined Beechcraft 200 plane died in the crash and one other person was killed on the ground. He said the cause of the accident was still unclear.
Emergency officials said the plane hit two buildings in a wealthy neighborhood on the northern side of the city before it crashed in a backyard.
EU leaders reject more stimulus despite glum stats
By RAF CASERT, Associated Press Writer
|BRUSSELS – European Union nations on Thursday rejected new spending projects to boost their recession-hit economies, standing firm against massive street protests demanding subsidies and U.S. suggestions to stoke growth with more aid.
Despite a million people marching in France and more bad company news hitting Europe's industrial engine in Germany, EU leaders at a summit in Brussels said now was not the time to throw more money at the crisis — at least not until the effects of a first euro200 billion package set in.
Mexico nabs suspected cartel leader without a shot
By E. EDUARDO CASTILLO, Associated Press Writer
|MEXICO CITY – A purported top leader of Mexico's Sinaloa drug cartel was in police custody Thursday, as authorities extended a cross-border crackdown on the gang that has included the arrest of 755 of its members in the U.S.
Vicente "El Vicentillo" Zambada was arrested before dawn Wednesday at a home in an elite Mexico City neighborhood, said Gen. Luis Arturo Oliver, the Mexican Defense Department's deputy chief of operations.
Australian FM to visit China for security talks
|SYDNEY (AFP) – Australia and China will hold the second round of a "strategic dialogue" on global and regional security in Beijing next week, according to Foreign Minister Stephen Smith.
"The Strategic Dialogue is an important pillar in our expanding bilateral ties with China, and reflects the significance of the relationship to the two countries," he said.
Bin Laden exhorts Somali militants in Web message
By ELIZABETH A. KENNEDY, Associated Press Writer
|AIROBI, Kenya – Osama bin Laden urged Somalis on Thursday to overthrow their new president, issuing a statement that clearly outlines al-Qaida's ambitions in a nation long feared to be a haven for the terrorist network.
Bin Laden's 11 1/2-minute audiotape was entirely focused on Somalia, an impoverished country in the Horn of Africa that has been in chaos for nearly two decades, torn apart by warlords and Islamic militant groups. In January, parliament elected President Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, a moderate Islamist, in hopes that he would unify the country's factions.
Austria's Fritzl gets life in psychiatric prison
By VERONIKA OLEKSYN and WILLIAM J. KOLE, Associated Press
|ST. POELTEN, Austria – Josef Fritzl was sentenced to life in a psychiatric ward Thursday for one of Austria's most notorious crimes: Locking his daughter in a dungeon for 24 years, fathering her seven children and letting one die in captivity as a newborn.
Fritzl, 73, sat calmly and bowed his head as a jury convicted him of all the charges against him — homicide, enslavement, rape, incest, forced imprisonment and coercion. After locking eyes with his lawyer, he waived his right to appeal, ending a case that has drawn revulsion worldwide.
Suicide case highlights stresses in Japan's Self-Defense Forces
By Takehiko Kambayashi | Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor
|YOKOHAMA, JAPAN - Idealistic and interested in promoting humanitarian assistance abroad, Tomohisa Irino joined Japan's Self-Defense Forces (SDF) in 2004. But just one year later, the 21-year-old petty officer committed suicide.
In the notebook he left behind, along with his expressions of appreciation for his family and friends, Irino scribbled "I will never forgive you," and cursed Osamu Sato, his superior at the Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF).
Is access to clean water a basic human right?
By Yigal Schleifer | Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor
|ISTANBUL, Turkey - With fresh water resources becoming scarcer worldwide due to population growth and climate change, a growing movement is working to make access to clean water a basic universal human right.
But it's a contentious issue, experts say. Especially difficult is how to safely mesh public-sector interests with public ownership of resources – and determine the legal and economic ramifications of enshrining the right to water by law.
"It's an issue that is snowballing," says Tobias Schmitz, a water-resources expert with Both Ends, a Dutch environmental and development organization. Some 30 countries have a constitutional or legal provision ensuring individuals' access to water, up from a handful a few years ago, he says.
Brazil's top court backs indigenous rights
|BRASILIA (AFP) – Indigenous groups from the Amazon have won a major victory after Brazil's Supreme Court upheld the integrity of a vast native reserve, paving the way for the eviction of white farmers who have resisted leaving.
Dozens of bare-chested, brightly painted indigenous people celebrated on Thursday the landmark ruling by dancing and singing outside Brazil's top court, which weighed into a 30-year dispute over the rights of native groups to lands in South America's largest nation.
"This decision is a great victory for Indians and enshrines the rights of indigenous peoples," Marcio Meira, president of the National Indian Foundation (FUNAI), told AFP.
Madoff auditor surrenders on fraud charge
By Sebastian Smith
|NEW YORK (AFP) – The accountant who allegedly rubber-stamped Wall Street conman Bernard Madoff's financial statements surrendered to authorities Wednesday and was charged with fraud.
David Friehling, 49, faces a sentence of up to 105 years in prison if convicted for his alleged role in helping Madoff cheat thousands of investors out of billions of dollars.
FDIC closes sale of failed bank IndyMac to OneWest
By JENNIFER MALLOY ZONNAS, AP Business Writer
|LOS ANGELES – Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. said late Thursday it completed the sale of IndyMac Federal Bank, one of the largest casualties of the housing bust, to OneWest Bank.
Pasadena, Calif.-based OneWest, a federal savings bank formed by an investor group that includes billionaire George Soros and Dell Inc. founder Michael Dell, agreed last December to purchase the failed California lender for $13.9 billion.
Blockbuster arranges new loans, loses $360M in 4Q
By MICHAEL LIEDTKE, AP Business Writer
|Blockbuster Inc. suffered a fourth-quarter loss of $360 million to conclude another difficult year, but the struggling video rental chain has lined up critical financing to buy it more time to adapt to ever-fiercer competition from the Internet and cable services.
Despite the tentative agreements with JP Morgan Chase Bank and two other lenders, Blockbuster warned Thursday its auditor is likely to raise doubts about the Dallas-based company's ability to remain afloat.
Business News - Reuters
Bank of America involved in Merrill Q4 writedowns: report
|NEW YORK (Reuters) – Bank of America Corp (BAC.N) was involved in accounting for fourth-quarter writedowns at Merrill Lynch & Co before it acquired the brokerage firm, the Financial Times reported on Thursday.
Bank of America's chief accounting officer, Neil Cotty, was influential in determining writedowns for complex debt instruments and leveraged loans among other assets at Merrill, people familiar with the matter told the newspaper.
GE Capital sees '09 profit, but below December view
By Scott Malone
|NEW YORK (Reuters) – General Electric Co (GE.N)'s hefty finance arm expects to be profitable this year even though the economy may drive its profit down, nearer to $2 billion to $2.5 billion than to a $5 billion figure it gave in December, a top GE executive said on Thursday.
The U.S. conglomerate calculated the lower projection using assumptions of the Federal Reserve for the U.S. economy.
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